Article 096: Sleep: the secret to creativity


Stephen King was on a flight from New York to London when he awoke from a frightening nightmare in which he was being held against his will by an obsessive fan. The dream was vivid and King was able to clearly recount the image of the villainous woman and the language she used. Immediately upon waking, King wrote the nightmare down on a napkin. That same dream later became the basis for his critically acclaimed novel Misery.

King wrote that some of his best ideas came to him while sleeping, and he’s not alone in his thinking. Paul McCartney, Mary Shelley, Francisco Goya and Aphex Twin all claim to have been inspired by their dreams, though the creative experience of sleeping is not limited to artists. American golfer Jack Nicklaus was able to perfect his swing after dreaming about it. Otto Loewi, a German physiologist, claimed to have discovered his theory on the transmission of nerve impulses in a dream prior to doing so in reality. Loewi later won the Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on said theory.

In these instances, it is not a case of arbitrary moments of inspiration, or fleeting creative genius. In actuality, the act of sleeping forms an integral part of the creative process. As we sleep deeply, the brain gets to work on processing and storing memories and new experiences, while forging links between seemingly unrelated ideas. This in turn leads to increased creative insight in the morning. A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that subjects are able to solve 30% more puzzles following REM sleep, and this is due to the strengthening mental process that occurs overnight.

For a rebel entrepreneur, creativity is a fundamental part of the innovation process, and yet many neglect to prioritise sleep in their busy schedules. As it turns out, the adage “sleep on it’’, is more than just a turn of phrase. When it comes to looking for new ideas for your company, or creative solutions for seemingly insurmountable problems, the best thing to do is to get a good night’s sleep and, while dozing off, let them infiltrate your mind, then wait for new insights in the morning.




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